You might be excused for thinking no good will come of a federal election campaign introducing us to hashtags like #peegate and #barbaricculturalpractices.
But even though it’s not yet over, and I have no idea who is going to win, I’m going to make a bold prediction and optimistic prediction.
I believe the innovation and technology sector in Canada will come out of this campaign season stronger than it went in.
It’s not because our issues dominated the national debate. Far from it. Newsfeeds have largely been crammed with stories about the usual social media gaffes, minor scandals and tangential if not bizarre dustups over issues which have almost no bearing on the important challenges facing our country. You’d think niqabs were a more serious threat than climate change, a massive refugee crisis and a stalling economy.
It’s not because the parties recognized the sector with significant plans to boost support and investment in the fastest-growing sector of the economy. What we’ve seen so far is fairly basic, and mostly on the sidelines of larger announcements.
The Conservatives are offering little more than lower taxes and a venture capital plan. The Liberals have promised more money for incubators, accelerators and research facilities. The NDP has promised innovation tax credits and, to its credit, responded very quickly to technology sector concerns by clarifying that their proposed tax on stock options would specifically exclude options granted by early stage companies.
It was this consternation over the stock options tax, and the swiftness of the NDP work to fix it that marked, I believe, a significant turning point for the technology sector in Canada. For the first time, innovation economy leaders have recognized that when we speak with a united voice, governments and political parties listen. And while entrepreneurs have traditionally viewed government as an irritant, if they think of it at all, this election has showed us that government can also be a powerful ally.
We have also learned that while governments and other political parties don’t appear to have a very sophisticated understanding of how to support the innovation economy, they are more than willing to listen. It’s no longer enough to say “they don’t understand us” and throw our hands up. We need to take the lead.
It’s very encouraging to see voices like John Ruffolo and Jim Balsillie now calling for a united effort to reach out and work with government to make sure there is a clear understanding of what is needed to grow the innovation economy. I think they are dead on, and judging from what I’m hearing, there’s widespread support for this.
Here’s what we have to do now.
First, we need to figure out what we want from government. Given the diversity of players in the innovation economy, and the constantly changing context, that’s actually harder than we might think. And we won’t be able to get everything we want, so we have to boil it down to a few achievable priorities.
Second, we need to figure out how that list overlaps with the priorities of government. That means being willing to put ourselves in their shoes and understand government for what it is, not what we wish it was. Governments are pulled in many directions by competing interests, some of them directly opposed to our objectives. It’s our job to make the case for our goals, show them why opposing voices are wrong, and demonstrate how our goals support those of the government.
Here in BC, we’ve made a good start on this by talking to both the provincial government and the opposition for several years now. I know that others in other jurisdictions have also worked very well provincially but I believe it’s time to take this up a notch and bring this approach to the national scene.
The campaign, with all its lunacy, will soon come to an end. No matter who wins the election, that government will have to face up to the real problems confronting our country: economic growth, the creation of good jobs, revenue to pay for infrastructure and services, education and training, international trade and a sustainable environment. We are well positioned to to help the government create a diversified, globally-competitive and low-carbon economy. Let’s get out there and show them how.